Neighbours spoilers follow.
The big day is getting closer. Neighbours returns for its new season on September 18, kicking off a fresh chapter of Ramsay Street drama.
Fans can expect an exciting mix of the familiar and the new, as classic characters mix with a batch of fresh faces in Erinsborough.
Long-serving executive producer Jason Herbison recently caught up with Digital Spy and other press to share new teasers of what's in store.
When you wrote the 2022 finale, did you approach it with this potential revival in mind?
"We very much thought it was the end and worked very hard to make it feel fitting, rewarding and satisfying. I always hoped that maybe the show would come back one day, but I certainly didn't think it would happen so quickly. That's all power to the audience, the fans and of course Amazon Freevee, who came along and are bringing back the show.
"So I didn't want to close off the possibility and I wanted doors to be left open, but certainly had not set my mind to what the next chapter could be, because we wouldn't have even known when that would be and who might be involved. It was not in my mind during the finale."
How did the first conversations with Amazon come about?
"It was after the finale and the incredible response that we saw the finale get. Obviously, all those wonderful cast came back and I think everyone was reminded of the great love that is still out there for Neighbours. Then it was November 2022 that everything came together and we made our announcement."
The new season is set two years after the finale. Why did you decide on that time jump?
"That was decided very early on, when we were having talks with Amazon. We knew there was going to be a transmission gap, so life for the audience would have gone on and time would have passed for them too.
"It just felt like a one-off opportunity. In serial dramas, there aren't a lot of things you can do for the first time. Of course, other soaps have done time jumps, but in our case, we were actually going to have been off air as well. We felt that it was a great opportunity – and two years felt like a really nice timeline."
How and when did you decide which characters you'd bring back?
"It was very, very quick. I was thinking about it in isolation for a little while, but then when we got the green light and sign-off, I went and visited the four heritage cast [Stefan Dennis, Alan Fletcher, Jackie Woodburne and Ryan Moloney]. We talked to them and very quickly got them all on board for an announcement.
"I had a bit of an idea of the other characters that I'd been thinking about, so we very quickly and urgently got on the phones and in a couple of weeks, pulled together the cast that we needed for the return."
Did you approach everyone, or just people you felt you could play exciting character arcs with?
"Well, with the decision to do a time jump, that meant that some people naturally would have moved on. There were people who were unavailable as they had moved on to other projects, so we had decisions to make over whether or not we might want to recast those roles, or whether or not we might move them on from the show.
"But I will say that, just because a character is not back in episode one, it doesn't mean they may not return in the future. Certainly, there's a lot of love from the actors who have been on the show."
How has the collaboration with Amazon been going?
"They've been amazing. From the get-go, we've had nothing but love for the show from them. It's been a collaboration and it's a big deal for them too – they know that it's a big thing to be bringing Neighbours back.
"I visited their offices in February and just met everyone, and we've had the pleasure of having several of them come out to set as well. They've just been great. They've got a lot of respect for the brand. They know how much the audience misses the show and wants it back."
Are you pitching the revival to the existing audience or to a new one too?
"Well, it is very much that 'perfect blend'. We are wanting everyone that knows and loves the show, everyone that watched that finale, to come back and to see the Neighbours that they know, love, remember and are missing. We want them to feel as though they've got their show back.
"I always said the finale was a hug to the audience – a goodbye hug – and I want this to be a 'welcome back' hug. But at the same time, we did want the show to be accessible to a new audience.
"The time jump is helpful there too. Very naturally, with new characters coming into the show, there are natural organic ways to bring a new audience up to date on what might be going on.
"I think if you've watched the show before, then you'll be able to pick it up straight away. If you haven't watched it for a few years, you'll be able to pick it up straight away. But alternatively, if you haven't watched the show at all, you'll also be able to get into it."
With the show now airing on a streaming service, have there been many conversations about how that might change your approach?
"It's an exciting new world. I think there's been so much conversation about streamers and serial dramas. We're leading the way now and it's going to be really exciting to see this launch.
"In terms of how we plot the show and how we structure the show, I don't think it's changed our approach at all. We are still very much making the show that we were making before, but obviously, we want to be making the show better.
"We're always doing that. We're always looking at the production model, looking at our technology, always trying to make it as good as it can possibly be."
Are you planning to revisit any of the storylines you didn't have time for in 2022?
"Well, we always had a lot of ideas on the table. I did notice some of them sneak out, so I'm certainly not doing anything that got revealed.
"We did bring in the Rodwell family just before the show ended, and because the show was ending, we didn't really get the chance to tell as many stories as we'd hoped. So we've got the Rodwell family back. We've also got a new family as well, who are great."
What was the thinking behind the new Varga-Murphy family?
"Well, we're a very progressive show and I really wanted to bring in a same-sex couple with older children. We played out those storylines with Aaron and David and a younger child, but I was really keen to see it in an older, grown-up family with teenage kids.
"Our motto is 'everyone is welcome on Ramsay Street'. I think there is a little bit of us saying, 'This is the future'. A little bit of us staking what we're about on day one. But they're terrific characters, and we've gotten terrific storylines out of them."
Is it important to you that the show is progressive in that way?
"I just think it's contemporary and real life. I never like to think of it as 'an agenda' or anything like that. I think we're reflecting real life. We've all had so much incredible feedback over the years from people who are marginalised or not represented on television. It's so powerful to hear people say how meaningful it is to them to see themselves on television.
"We've also seen a huge change in the last decade. We used to do a lot of focus groups and I remember in the early years – I've been here for 11 years – maybe in a group of 10 people, you might have one person going 'I'm not sure about Aaron or David' or 'I don't think they should be on at teatime'.
"Then a couple of years later, you know that one or two people, maybe it was one every now and then. Then the last time we did them, not one. People would say, 'They're just characters we love in the show'.
"That really showed me the power of a show like Neighbours to change, to normalise, to evolve and also – why wouldn't you want diverse progressive characters because they give you great stories?"
Is there anything else that you can tease about future stories?
"We've got wonderful new characters. I think one of the many beauties of Neighbours is that it has always been multi-generational. With this next chapter of the show, it's starting afresh and it was a great chance as well to just reset that.
"We have our wonderful grandparent figures like Karl and Susan, we have characters like Toadie and then the new family – the parents with the kids. And then the 20-somethings, who live in a share household, and then the teenagers and then the young children. I think it's a really nice balance of characters."
What can you tell us about Guy Pearce's return as Mike Young?
"We're very excited that Guy Pearce has been back and done some stuff for us too. That's wonderful and I think people will really enjoy seeing Mike and Jane together again.
"It's more than a moment and it's very meaningful. What happens beyond that will play out. But Guy has been wonderful, and he's very engaged as well in the characters and their future happiness."
Can you share any teasers about Mischa Barton's character, Reece?
"Like with the new family, she's a newcomer to town, so she's another great person for a new viewer to see the world through. But in the tradition of many characters, she's a bit of a mystery woman.
"Reece has got a suitcase of secrets! It's an interesting journey. Has she come for something? Is she running away from something? It's a combination of both, so I think she's got some twists and turns.
"Her character herself goes on a journey. She is touched by the lives of everyone here in Erinsborough and then ultimately, down the track finds out much more, that she was never expecting to ever find there."
Would you bring in more US stars if the show takes off in America, where Freevee is also available?
"I think we're open to anything. We are absolutely a show about Australians living in an Australian suburban street. But we do have a lot of Brits, a lot of Americans, a lot of people from many different countries, just like real life. So I think we're very open to it. We've had many British characters over the years pop through on the show."
Who are your sights on?
"Oh, many, many, many! I will say that we have approached some pretty good names who are very open and it's always a question of timing.
"I do want to put one thing out to the universe. I want Hugh Jackman to appear in Neighbours. Hugh famously almost did a two-year run on the show. He tells the story many times and you can see it online where he had the choice between two years on Neighbours or going to WAAPA, which is a very renowned film acting school in Perth.
"To the despair of his family in the UK, he chose WAAPA so I think it's time that he fulfilled his destiny. His wife Deborra-Lee Furness was directing here in 2020 and he was going to pop to set, but then it was the week of COVID and we had to shut."
Neighbours returns on September 18, with new episodes streaming on Mondays to Thursdays for free on Amazon Freevee in the UK and US. Network 10 will retain first-run rights in Australia for the new series.
You Might Also Like